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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

We’re thankful for the beasts who enriched our lives

by Peter Weinberger| pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

Through the years of growth and change in the Weinberger family, there’s been one part that remains a constant. Man’s best friend. Starting when I was a small lad, we always enjoyed the company of a family pooch—who to this day, remains an important piece in the family puzzle.

Although our dogs were all uniquely different, they did follow a certain type that fit our lifestyle. Up through the 1960s, Siggy was our first family dog. She was a small dog, who was the mutt of mutts, with some sort of terrier mix. We acquired her from a family whose dog had given birth to five puppies. Back then, people put pet ads in the COURIER, even when giving them away. As Siggy grew, her long, shedding hair drove my mother Janis crazy. And I was covered in the stuff.

I also remember the intense sadness of losing Siggy to old age. She literally grew up with me. I kept asking my mom why she had to die so early. I even asked God why dogs could not live as long as humans.

As you might imagine, it didn’t stop with Siggy. Next up was Stubby, followed by Monte, Coco, Skippy, Pixie, Rudy, Benny and our current one-year-old mostly chihuahua, Mia. But it was Stubby who gave me my 15 minutes of fame when we appeared on the Johnny Carson show in late 1982.

Stubby was a very unusual mix of toy poodle and dachshund, and as a pup she was a moving ball of fur with four stubby legs and only grew to about six pounds. She started making good-natured howling noises when we played, so I joined in the fun by howling myself. Within a short period of time, we were howling together.

Fame and fortune

Then one late night while watching Carson on TV, they put a call out for dog owners with singing animals. The only qualification to try out was living within 35 miles of NBC’s Burbank studios. It was perfect for me and Stubby.

When we arrived at NBC Studios, there was already a long line of people waiting. We were finally let inside and walked to a large building where about 100 dogs and their owners could perform. Once we started, the first thing I noticed was that half of the dogs were terrible. The common excuse was: “She’s so much better at home!” They were cut immediately.

By this time, Stubby was getting excited, which made performing that much easier. When it was our turn, I started to howl and Stubby joined in with me. Stubby did her part right on cue, as she mimicked my pitch after I howled. We did it again and again, perfectly. I knew we were in.

Two weeks later I received a call from the Carson show asking me to come in again. We returned days later, only to ace our audition once again. We were going on the Singing Animal Follies.

Mr. Carson had a great routine, arriving at work at 2:30 p.m. for a 4 p.m. taping. The show was then edited and broadcast at 11:30 p.m. across the country. I was in the dressing room when Mr. Carson walked in. He politely said hello to everyone, then went into his own private make-up room.

When it was time to go on, they had me stand right behind the curtain. Through the crack I could see the back of Mr. Carson’s head as he talked to the audience. There were bright lights everywhere.

A split second later the curtains opened, the music played, and Johnny shook my hand.

When he asked how we performed, I calmly stated that I started to howl and Stubby joined in. Johnny looked at me strangely when I began to howl. Stubby, who had been waiting four hours, looked up at me. If she could talk, I think she’d have said, “What!?”

Stubby didn’t do anything. I tried it again, this time howling louder. Stubby started panting. Silence. So I quickly tried a third time and Stubby finally howled, but quietly. By the fourth and fifth times we were cooking, just like we did during the auditions. It’s difficult to describe how it feels being on national television and standing on stage with your dog in silence. Not a stress reliever, that’s for sure. Heck, I guess it could have been worse.

I walked off the stage immediately afterward, so all Johnny could say was “Stubby was so-so, Peter pretty good!”

Based on an applause meter, Stubby and I ended up in third place out of the six groups of performers. A good effort from us would have won it all! But we did receive a wooden bone trophy painted gold. It was a good day. How much did we get paid for our efforts? $50.

Stubby, unfortunately, died a few weeks later when hit by a car after digging under our backyard fence. Believe it or not, a year later I actually tried the follies again with my next dog Monte. No one recognized me, so we auditioned and made it to the second round.

But Monte was too distracted to perform and was sent packing.

Luck changes for the better

My next dog Coco passed away at only seven months old. The vet said she had a bad heart. I was in shock and began to wonder whether owning dogs was right for me. It was couple of years before we found Skippy, a purebred cocker spaniel with a great attitude.

Skippy was our family dog for 11 years and was put down when we discovered he had cancer in his lungs. Skippy was the first family dog for my children, Matt and Collette. And they loved the company. They grew up together while we lived in Minnesota for eight years in the 1990s.

This time in our lives seemed like a blur because we were raising three young kids, the third being Skippy. At the time, we knew little about Minnesota winters, and didn’t realize the amount of time we would spend indoors due to the subfreezing temperatures. It also became a right of passage because it’s nearly impossible to clean up after your dog in the backyard. With snow on the ground throughout the winter, our backyard became a minefield for dozens of dog poops. One year we had a Halloween snowstorm that dumped three feet of snow. We did not see the ground again until five months later in April.

The loss of Skippy was difficult because I had never had to put a pet down before then. I knew it was the right thing to do because he was having difficulty breathing. But that really didn’t help at the time. All I could do afterward was sit in my car and cry.

Tiny but mighty

It would be several years and after a move to Charlotte, NC before we would take in another dog. But then my wife Betsy stumbled across an email to rescue a six-month old chihuahua, everything changed.

When Pixie first appeared at our house, she was dressed for success, wearing a dress and bonnet, with a pink “Pixie” necklace. She was even wearing boots as she sat in a picnic basket. I could tell immediately that she was miserable. So I took off all the stuff she was wearing. The woman who brought her kept telling me to be careful, Pixie could bite, but she never did. With clothes off, her tail started wagging as I rubbed her neck. When she began licking my hands, I was sold. The Weinbergers had a new member of the family! Now I’d better tell my wife.

Pixie and I were inseparable for the next 14 years.

Because of her small size, we could take Pixie anywhere. We had a travel bag that looked like carry-on luggage, so it was easy to take her on a plane. She wouldn’t make a sound. Even the person sitting next to me didn’t know she was at my feet. When I drove across country one summer, Pixie literally sat in my lap the entire ride.

Like Stubby, Pixie was also a star, appearing in several drone videos called “Flying with Miss Pixie.” Those videos received over 500,000 views on social media. She was also a regular visitor at the COURIER, continuing a tradition of pooches coming to work. My father Martin did the same thing with his dog, Rosie.

Over the years our love for Pixie grew so much that we rescued another older chihuahua named Rudy, who was at least 10 years old when I first met him. But he looked more like 15. He was recovering from being hit by a car and had been abandoned. When I took Pixie in for her shots, the vet knew it would be easy to find Rudy a new home. She was correct.

Both dogs were incredibly popular with our friends and family. The only problem with Rudy was that he would nip the ankles of Collette’s visiting high school friends. He was just protecting us. Rudy thought he was a tough guy and had the biggest heart in the world. But he also needed extra care because of his age and severe arthritis. He was the perfect fit for Pixie, too, since she was always the queen bee of the household. Rudy lived with us for five years before passing on.

All this brings me to the dog who’s currently part of our family. Mia is a one-year-old chihuahua and terrier mix, who is so smart, she seems to figure out everything. The first thing we noticed was how Mia looks directly into your eyes, trying to understand what you are saying. She already knows the names of her toys, is a picky eater and can be quite entertaining. Mia has a motor that doesn’t stop and can be difficult to train because she’s stubborn, having her own way of doing things. She reminds me of two-year-old kids who have just learned to walk. You must follow them everywhere!

Just like the other dogs in my life, Mia has a personality of her own, while bringing us joy in unique and different ways. She has done a great job replacing Pixie, even though she’s a real rascal. Now that I’m 64 years old, I sometimes wonder how many more dogs I’ll have in my life. I am planning on Mia being around for a long time!

Maybe she needs a friend?

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